Flog a Pro

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.

“Is that the mill?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I do not remember it.”

“It was built since you were here. The old mill is farther down; much below the pass.”

He spread the photostated military map out on the forest floor and looked at it carefully. The old man looked over his shoulder. He was a short and solid old man in a black peasant’s smock and gray iron-stiff trousers and he wore rope-soled shoes. He was breathing heavily from the climb and his hand rested on one of the two heavy packs they had been carrying.

“Then you cannot see the bridge from here.”

“No,” the old man said. “This is the easy country of the pass where the stream flows gently. Below, where the road turns out of sight in the trees, it drops suddenly and there is a steep gorge—”

Were you moved to turn the page?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

There’s a Yes/No polling button at the OP. The results of the poll when PG checked didn’t speak well for the methods of the traditional publishing industry for reviewing submissions.

2 thoughts on “Flog a Pro”

    • Frank Herbert had to take DUNE to an autoparts catalog publisher.
      And *he* was an established profesional writer for a decade before with several acclaimed (if shorter) novels.
      Yeah, their judgement is impeccable.Riiighht…

      (I’m pretty sure a chimp throwing darts in a dark room would more accurately predict a top seller.)

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